The Current Evil in Two Words


The basic meaning of evil is to be found, not in fantastic images of the satanic, but in the plainer, more down-to-earth matter of doing harm, whether by aggressive assault or more passive disregard for human life and well-being.  I said “human” because our attention has been focused most often upon the evils people do to each other, and upon reflection, we should add the damage people do to themselves because when evil is understood as harm, self-destruction may be considered evil, also, without necessarily becoming a matter of blame.  Is cruelty inflicted upon earth’s non-speaking creatures not, then, evil?  Indeed it is, whether done as the kind of brutality and neglect visited upon pets that makes for raging headlines and public outcries for punishment or as the routine destruction of animal environs that quietly kills off species.  If, through biblical knowledge or other ways of thought that lead us to a sense of our stewardship responsibility for this planet, we are moved to see ourselves as care-takers for the earth rather than privileged overlords, then harm done to ecosystems as such may rightly be called evil also.

What, then, do I mean by “the current evil”?  I am seeking to identify a source of great harm being done on earth these days, a contemporary evil with powerful and pervasive destructive force doing widespread and increasing damage to life on earth.  As usual, evil so great and powerful must be couched in terms that make it sound reasonable and right, even inevitable in the course of human development.  Such great evil must sound proper if not downright good and virtuous.

The two words are spoken as a command but also as a reasonable and well-recognized goal, a given elevated beyond question.  They are: “maximize profits.”  Not “make a profit” or even a nice profit.  Not even “increase profits,” although that’s a step closer, sometimes.  It’s not hard to imagine, though, a certain desperation even in that phrase when it speaks of a pressing concern, as in, “We must increase our profits soon, or we will not be able to stay in business.”  No, the word that pushes the business necessity of making money over the line is “maximize.”

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What Ifs


Decades have come and gone since I was a boy scout, but now in retirement I am getting back into hiking.  Much has changed, but the basic human needs for survival have not: air/oxygen, potable water, fire, shelter (including clothing), food, hope, and a certain amount of savvy.  Mosquito netting and some know-how about potentially dangerous wildlife, weather conditions, and first aid can help, too, depending upon the situation.

Not long ago, I read about a young father and two of his sons who perished in the mountains because they were caught in rain and darkness with dropping temperatures, no protective clothing, no light source, and no knowledge of how to survive.  I found myself thinking a lot about those two boys and how they could have been saved if they had been found after their father had stumbled off into the darkness and gotten lost.  I had already begun to gather things I called “what ifs,” but that tragic incident pushed my thinking.  What if a day hike turned into an unexpected overnight?  What if one of us sprained or broke an ankle?  Or fell into water in temperatures low enough to cause hypothermia?

I expanded my “what if” thinking to include ordinary car trips and not just when we were driving through an Arizona desert where packing water and protective clothing is as advisable as knowing what to do in a dust storm or the kind of cloud burst that generates flash flooding which turns dips in the road into impassible washes.

I’m no survival expert, and I’m not about to try to carry on my back special equipment for every conceivable situation, but I do think about the what ifs.  I also keep learning from people who know more than I about safety and responsible practices outdoors.

But this morning, I’m thinking on the larger scale.  On Facebook, the Presbyterian Hunger Program posted an article with the lead, “Democracy and diversity can mend broken food systems – final diagnosis from UN right to food expert.”  The article begins with this:

 “The eradication of hunger and malnutrition is an achievable goal. However, it will not be enough to refine the logic of our food systems – it must instead be reversed,” Mr. De Schutter stressed during the presentation of his final report to the UN Human Rights Council after a six-year term as Special Rapporteur.

The expert warned that the current food systems are efficient only from the point of view of maximizing agribusiness profits. “At the local, national and international levels, the policy environment must urgently accommodate alternative, democratically-mandated visions,” he said.

Here’s the whole thing, which is not long.

I believe we need to think about “what if” beyond the survival and well-being of “me and mine.”  Maximizing profits is a perverse goal that drives us toward slavery and death.  It’s not the word “profits” than enslaves and kills; it’s the word “maximizing” that becomes ruthless, glorifies greed, and falsely justifies inhuman practices.